Students learn to say no to gangs
Students sign a pledge to not get involved in gangs. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)
Students are being taught the dangers of joining gangs and are learning the skills to avoid them through Jordan District’s Choose Gang-Free Program.
“This program specifically deals with risk factors that can lead to possible gang involvement down the road,” said Kris Murphy, the program director who works with the Salt Lake Area Gang Project. She provided information to Bobbie Nixon, Jordan District’s teacher specialist for Gangs, to develop the program curriculum. The curriculum is evidence-based, adapted from a program used in California schools.
Choose Gang-Free was taught to both fifth- and sixth-graders at Columbia Elementary this year. Murphy said this is the best age to teach gang prevention, as these kids are becoming more aware of them.
Nine 40-minute lessons outlined for students the dangers of gangs, how to avoid them and alternatives to membership.
One technique they learned was ARE: avoid, refuse, escape. Students practiced it as a way to respond when exposed to gangs.
Jack Richardson, a student at Columbia, said the program taught him how to stay safe.
“The lessons showed why it wasn’t safe to be in a gang and how it can hurt you,” said Jack. He said most kids know gangs aren’t safe, but learning more specifically how dangerous they are was useful.
Students learned about the circle of gang violence and the risks that come with gang membership. For one activity, they were invited to spin a wheel scattered with good and bad consequences. Some students took the risk and spun the wheel. Many chose not to play. Jack said the activity was like being in a gang.
“There’s always a chance for something good to happen, but bad things will always come around at some point,” said Jack. “The safest move is to not play or join at all.” Jack hopes to be a librarian and author someday. He understands gang membership could hurt his chances for getting a job.
Tori Llewellyn said she learned that gangs get members involved in illegal activities that may affect their future.
“Some kids think gangs are a good idea, but now that we’ve learned this stuff, we know that it’s really not,” Tori said.
The program emphasizes that police officers protect the community.
A detective from the West Jordan Police Department helped the kids understand how gangs affect entire families by sharing the story of his brother who was in a gang.
Fifth-grader Randle Dansie said he learned a lot from the detective’s story.
“As you get older, you don’t want to get involved in gangs because then you could lose family members,” said Randle. He said he kept notes during the classes and hopes to be able to remember what he has learned. He has already shared the lessons with his brothers.
“I think it’s really important to learn,” he said.
Randle said instead of a gang, he chooses to be part of a hockey team. The Choose Gang-Free Program encourages alternatives to gang membership like hobbies, sports, school activities, clubs and volunteer work as well as choosing good friends.
“Gangs limit your good opportunities in the world,” Nixon told the students at their program graduation. “How wonderful your lives can be if you choose to live gang-free.”
Columbia was one of just a few schools in Jordan District that implemented the program last year. The program is also used by Granite and Salt Lake districts. More schools and districts will be using the program this coming year, said Murphy.
“We are collecting data so we can see what trends are happening in these specific communities so that we know we are touching on the correct issues for the kids,” said Murphy. The program will be revisited when the students reach eighth grade.
Every school administrator and teacher received gang awareness training this year from Nixon as a result of recent Utah Codes and Board Rules requiring it. The Choose Gang-Free Program is an optional program for schools whose principals choose to participate.
Tips for avoiding gangs can be found at http://www.wvc-ut.gov/DocumentCenter/View/6752.